The common mantra for years was “Do more with less,” Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive/CIO of Oakland County, told the crowd at the 2014 DiSciTech Awards April 17 in Livonia, Mich.
“Here’s the reality. This is what government is doing today. We are doing less with less. And doing it way more efficiently today.”
Bertolini delivered the keynote address at the annual award event honoring businesses and other entities that are leaders in the fields of digital, science and technology. The event was held at Schoolcraft College’s VisTaTech Center.
Bertolini said someone asked him it would have been better to be a leader in the mid-90s when governments had money and were holding it in, or during the 2008-2010 downturn.
“My answer was 2008-2010. Here’s why. Government is traditionally rooted in its processes. When you loose 300 jobs, your revenue stream goes down 25 percent, you have to do things differently. There was more change in that 4-year period than in 10 or 20 years. This was an awesome opportunity to reinvent government services and change the way we do business.
“You have to be more innovative. You have to find a way to use technology efficiently. Leadership is way more important.”
He said that Oakland County was able to reinvent services and change the way business gets done because of shared services. He cited Oakland County’s G2G Cloud Solutions, which was created to improve government services by sharing technology with other government agencies at little or no cost, reducing the cost of government.
“We agreed we can no longer go by ourselves, we need partners, we need to share services. But we found that we cannot give it away to other governments. It has to be a value for value proposition.
“Sharing is the future of government technology, just as it is with many businesses. We are regional players and do more regional efforts than anyone else combined. It started in the ‘60s with our law enforcement management system, started by County Executive L. Brooks Patterson when he was county prosecutor.
“Our motto is: ‘You build it once, pay for it once and everybody benefits from it.’ You don’t have to continually reinvent the wheel and have the taxpayers pay more than once for a technology they can benefit from together.
“Technology is the enabler to make it all happen. Technology is one of the three pillars from Patterson, the others being economic development and being financially stable.”
Bertolini laid out five points he wanted to emphasize:
1. Cyber security
2. Recruitment and retention of qualified IT professionals
3. Cloud computing
4. Mobile technologies and BYOD
5. Citizen engagement
Why cyber security? Bertolini cited the Target breach, the Heartbleed issue, and HIPAA health care compliance.
“The world has shifted dramatically in this realm. They are coming in and taking whole databases. They can steal your identity. We have to take this seriously. We are in the process of educating all 4,000 employees in the county, and want them to take it home to educate their families. Everyone has a role in maintaining security.
“We are now at the point of having cyber security provided as a service. Not everyone – governments or businesses – has the money to properly secure themselves. It is extremely important. We have to encourage students to pursue this field.”
Recruitment and retention
“I have 157 full-time IT positions in the county. More than 20 of those positions are vacant. Why? The IT industry is booming. This area is one of the fastest growing in the country for IT professionals.
“We actually have a bounty – in a good way – for recruiters to bring IT people to us. Young people coming out of college are still leaving Michigan. We have to find ways to do a better job of talking about the opportunities we have for IT professionals.
“But we need a good mix. Not just IT skills, but also soft skills. They need to be able to communicate with people.
“In three years, 30 percent of the workforce in Oakland County will be eligible to retire. I don’t have enough Gen X and Y employees to take over the leadership roles, so millennials will be coming into the leadership roles quickly. This is a big issue. We have to find a way to make these people ready to be leaders.”
“We are doing something unique in Oakland County. We are a consumer of cloud technology, but also a provider with our G2G service. We have more than 50 entities using this technology. There is interest from as far away as California and Oklahoma to consume our government-to-government service.”
Bertolini stressed that G2G is not a profit making service. Costs to provide the service are covered by enhanced fees in a value for value exchange.
The point, he said, is that there are medium to small governments today that cannot afford to take advantage of bigger technologies.
“If we can lower the expense or those technologies, more governments can take advantage of them and then deliver better services to their residents. That is what it all about. So we created the brand, G2G Cloud Solutions.”
The technology handles such things as payments, fees and fines, website hosting, cloud services, for example. Wolverine Lake and the city of Pontiac are using G2G.
Five counties have come together to share on the service: St. Clair, Macomb, Genesee, Oakland and Livingston. “We are now inviting private entities to provide services on G2G. We are vetting them now. The state of Michigan is also a partner with us.”
Mobile Tech and BYOD
“I’m talking about truly mobile. We have to think mobile first. Why is this important? I have hundreds of mobile workers out there. In addition, over 40 percent of our traffic – people using our services — is from mobile devices. If we think it is going to slow down, we are fooling ourselves. Mobility is here. It is growing faster than anyone of us could have imagined.
“We have to have the right procedures and policies in place to embrace the new reality. The devices are here and more are coming. As leaders in IT we are going to have to work together on this. Virtual desktops, mobile device management. The devices are coming in anyway.”
In government, social media used to be a dirty word. We have to embrace it. Demystify social media and start using it as a tool. We try to make sure we are converging our social media channels together and getting the right, unified message out there. Staff it appropriately and put good policies in place.
“We want to make sure we are where the people are – it’s no different for businesses. We have centered on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr for Photos and YouTube channels.”
In closing, Bertolini brought up the importance of leadership. “Be the leader – this is the most important comment I can make,” he said. “We need leaders that go out and find the new ideas and we need leaders to get it implemented. We don’t have a choice not to get out front in the IT industry. Be an agent of change. Embrace the chaos so that we can do the best we can.”
You can download a PDF of Phil Bertolini’s keynote address here.